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27 January 2008

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Cold War Zoomie

Who knows how many times I've repeated on SST the age old axiom:

You f*ck the herd and the herd will f*ck you.

It seems to describe our current foreign policy predicaments far too often these days.

505th PIR

Latest article in NY times ultimately arrives at the same conclusion.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/magazine/27world-t.html?pagewanted=1&ref=world

Cieran

Colonel:

With all due respect, a minor quibble about this:

He does not see the need to bargain with people. He has a business mentality

I'd suggest that he has a failed business mentality, because his complete inability to compromise (or even to listen to other viewpoints) was a defining characteristic of Bush's business ventures, all of which failed.

Great businesses (e.g., Toyota, HP) succeed in large part because they listen intently to everybody from their customers to their shop-floor employees. The notion of compromise (even when one party is much stronger than the other) is embedded in the DNA of competitive businesses that exhibit long-term success.

This belief in negotiation isn't in Bush's feature set, so he has cratered every business venture he got involved with... but he never had to deal with the ramifications of his poor business acumen, because his enablers (e.g., his family, various Saudi backers including the Bin Laden family) cleaned up his messes, thus depriving him of the opportunity to learn some practical business skills from his myriad mistakes.

Good businesses excel at give-and-take, because it's an important part of what makes the free market work. Bush was incompetent at business, and he has persisted in that flaw as the chief executive of our nation. The biggest difference between then and now is that we'll need a world-sized mop to clean up his latest crop of administrative messes.

And as a postscript, I started reading your book this weekend, and it's a magnificent read, rich in colorful detail of the past and relevant context for today. Great work!

David W

The consensus opinion on Bush's visit seems to be that it was pure PR in the Arab states, and a reassurance to our great 'ally' Israel that Bush doesn't believe in the NIE--and, that all his hollow talk was outstripped by the events on the ground in Gaza, as the border wall was breached.

Col, your viewpoint is very close to What We Say Goes: Conversations on US Power in a Changing World, by Noam Chomsky. In fact, I think you are too kind to describe it as a business mentality. Bush is just continuing the path set for him, and he has about as much appetite for Peace in the ME as for reading War and Peace.

In fact, what we have here is a kabuki peace process--in which, a big deal is made of going to the 'moderates' (ie. Gulf states willing to be part of the US hegemon), while studiously ignoring the actors who would be instrumental in achieving any kind of 'real' peace, or at least, hudna.

What I find fascinating is how the best laid plans of the US and Israeli hawks have a way of backfiring and setting off unintended consequences--the Gaza Wall is just the most recent example.

Cold War Zoomie

A very, very interesting article that is related to this topic and so many others posted here on SST:

Waving Goodbye to Hegemony

Here's a summary:

Even as America stumbles back toward multilateralism, others are walking away from the American game and playing by their own rules...We have learned the hard way that what others want for themselves trumps what we want for them — always.

Walrus

Col. Lang, I agree with your comments on President Bush, but I think it's now irrelevent even to comment on his actions.

I also think Iraq is irrelevent and Iran is irrelevent and Al Qaeeda and the Taliban are irrelevent. Israel and the Palestinians are irrelevant.

Why? Because there appears to be a clear and present danger that the entire U.S. economy is going to be in meltdown mode very shortly thanks to a perfect storm of financial derivatives and debt.

Furthermore, I think the rest of the world senses it, and is starting to make plans that do not assume America is going to be part of that plan. That much was obvious from Bush's pitiful plea to the Saudis to raise oil production and the oil Minister's frosty response.

Bush is finished. America is about to go through a turbulent time, not just a little "readjustment" after which it will be business as usual. There will shortly be no time, or interest, in foriegn affairs, as well as no money to pursue foriegn wars.

Why do you not think Israel has responded to the breaching of the barriers between Egypt and Gaza? A year ago there would have been instant military retaliation on the part of Israel.

Watch the middle east reform itself in the knowledge that the "worlds largest superpower" has feet of clay.

Bush is kaput. America is nearly kaput. The world knows it.

GSD

Poor President Bush, seems he never learned the lesson from Gulliver's Travels.

All those little folks can tie up the giant if they work together.

All that potential bargaining power in the immediate post 9/11 environment pissed away by this small man and his even smaller Chimp Whisperers.

Sad.

Even sadder that someone is going to have to try and put Humpty Dumpty together again after he's gone.

-GSD

walrus

Cold War Zoomie, thank you for posting "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony"

Little more needs to be said.

john in the boro

"’We are not going to sink a lot of money into West Bank and Gaza projects that will just be blown up by the Israelis in a few months when things go wrong again,’ one Arab leader reportedly said to Bush. The president was also told that Gulf countries want Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to agree in writing to the borders of a Palestinian state before they can fully support the Bush effort.
. . .
“Arab leaders were telling Bush in their pushback -- albeit in code -- that the Palestinian refugees and their plight are the creation and responsibility of the West. Arab states will not take financial, social or political responsibility for the Palestinians just to help out Bush, Abbas, Israel -- or even the Palestinians.”

The above paragraphs from Hoagland bring to mind the American philosopher John Dewey who writes: “the new industrialism was largely the old feudalism, living in a bank instead of a castle and brandishing the check of credit instead of the sword” (1944, “Human Nature and Conduct”, 213). Willing to buy weapons, not willing to fund targets, touché. President Bush just found out that he cannot dictate the terms of a workout.

JohnS

The United States is the strongest country in the world at the moment, so he does not think he should bargain.

Oh boy, does he (and his spawn) have to read  "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony" by PARAG KHANNA in today's NY Times Magazine: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/magazine/27world-t.html?ex=1359176400&en=1af8c9c386cc212d&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

pbrownlee

Not sure that "the best laid plans of the US and Israeli hawks" are, in fact, plans at all but rather a tangle of talking points, wishes, improbable objectives, personal psychodrama scripts and adolescent rants masquerading as "a plan" -- which is invariably implemented by others at the pointy end.

A real plan is a compromise with the real world; coming to terms with this is a key to adulthood.

Charles I

Perhaps Bush's formative experiences instilled the belief that there is something even better than a batna - best alternative to negotiated agreement - the ability to eschew agreement in favour of deliverance

Powerful enablers allowed our Georgie to float through his early life with more ruddy faced enthusiasm than diligent effort. Light duty National Guard service, municipally funded football stadiums, corporate rescues by wealthy Saudis and the like seamlessly replaced consequences, responsibility and accountability in our hero's halcyon days.

Then, flush with the heady ascent to the Oval Office that his personal relationship with Jesus Christ enabl-, er, facilitated, 43 finds himself, on September 11, struck by a thunderbolt searing a Mission From God directly onto his frontal cortex. A cortex remarkably ill-suited to consideration of the more complex bits and workings of Creation that the Presidency (and even MORE than all ITS powers to boot) would then be focussed on. A cortex that doesn't, as our other hero, Steven Colbert puts it "see colour". For Bush there's ONLY black and white.

Free ride, fervent faith of the convert, ultimate power, paternal particulars and a catastrophic coincidence do not a negotiator make. He's constitutionally incapable of it. Pun intended. Plus all the rest of the flatheads don't allow it.

Stephen Calhoun

Just a few points of drift toward precise terminology.

Demands for loyalty above all else; the self-sense that one's status does not require compromise; and convergent, black and white thinking, *could* coalesce around an authoritarian personality type. This type may or may not be additionally encumbered by factors of narcissism or paranoia, etc.

Cognitive style and process style are obviously related to each other.

Bush has evoked a literature of professional and armchair psychologizing by our late point! His first day out of office will be a hard day for him.

(I weigh in here for the sake of granting that an old school 'boss is right' business mentality has given way to better business mentalities - in companies that have learned to not suffer through the boss always being right.)


Duncan Kinder

I'm very sorry, but there has always been something fundamentally wrong with Bush; and this should be obvious just from looking at him. ( It's something about his nose. )

One thing that has always puzzled me has been the cliche' that he's a good guy to have a drink with at the bar.

I can only conclude from this that many Americans frequent strange drinking establishments and have a weird sense of humor.

clifford kiracofe

This is a provocative thread...

1. The New York Times piece reflects broadly the debate that has been going on in the ivory tower since 1991-2 and the demise of the old Soviet Union. That is, should the US consider itself the hegemonic power in a "unipolar" world OR should the US begin to think about adjusting to an emerging "multipolar world." On the latter that we would be still be the so-called superpower but the EU, China, Russia, India would be moving upwards and other medium powers would be in the mix. This new situation would call for a rethink of our mix of diplomatic, economic, and military elements of our national strategy...."an agonizing reappraisal." The game is signficantly more complex than slogging it out in a bi-polar Cold War world.

2. The present Bush Administration officially adopted an updated version of the Wolfowitz-Cheney national strategy of 1992 which focused on a hegemonic US dominating a unipolar world. We have seen the results.

3. One wonders whether Bush has early onset Alzheimer's. I had a late friend who did and it is a tragic condition. I hope he does not. That said, a devastating clinical analysis of Bush has been done by Dr. Justin A. Frank, M.D. entitled "Bush on the Couch" (2004 and a new edition) and it reaches deep into many psychological issues and problems of mentation.

4. The Neoconservatives who have created the White House mindset (Decider, Cheney, etal) are Nietzschean...why would they negotiate anything? They believe they are "beyond good and evil" anyways such being the Nietzschean mindset.

5. At a different level the following may apply to the White House, Neocons, Fundamentalists etc:

"The identification of dream and reality as a matter of principle has practical results which may appear strange but can hardly be considered surprising. The critical exploration of cause and effect in history is prohibited; and consequently the rational co-ordination of means and ends in politics is impossible. Gnostic societies and their leaders will recognize dangers to their existance when they develop, but such dangers will not be met by appropriate actions in the world of reality. They will rather be met by magic operations in the dream world, such as disapproval, moral condemnation...The intellectual and moral corruption which expresses itself in the aggregate of such magic operations may pervade a society with the wierd, ghostly atmosphere of a lunatic asylum..."
The author's context was different and I edited some things but...from Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics (1952).

condfusedponderer

Plausible and interesting that Bush's approach to (foreign?) policy could be the result of his business school education. It suggests that he views (foreign) policy like a businessman approaches a hostile takeover.

What Bush in that analogy overlooks is that in the domestic arena a hostile takeover first his capital and then the law are the tools that help him push through his ambition and intent over resistance.

In international relations military force is the surrogate for financial power, while law is being replaced by legitimacy. The latter point is what Bush imperial enterprise lacks, but disregards, at high cost to America.

In a nutshell, it would be the shortcomings of a narrow education exacerbating personal flaws.

jonst

For the record, I don't think he is, in fact, "smart enough". I think he is a moron and I mean that, literally, whether I am right or wrong. I think he, much, much, more than his father, is a guy who was born, not only on third base, but half way up the foul line to home plate, and perpetually thinks he is about to hit a home run that will show us all.

Homer

pl: Unfortunately, the "little people" have not cooperated and will not in the Middle East.

Cold War Zoomie: You f*ck the herd and the herd will f*ck you.

Exactly!

Just look at how the little people, the herd, responded to Bush's prodding.....

Hamas won the election.

The Muslim Brotherhood significantly increased its power in Egypt.

Fundamentalist Shiites with long anc close ties to extremists in Iran won the election in Iraq.

You're doing a huckuva job Bushie!!!

Just think, Bush wants to open a think tank, a fantastic freedom institute, based on how he has caused modern liberal democracies to arise and flourish in the ME.......

How could the so called most powerful man in the world be at the same time the most ignorant???


Babak Makkinejad

Homer:

There was an old joke about the Soviet Union: that even if there were ever free elections there she would still remain a one-party states since everyone will be in the opposition party.

I think a similar situation obtains among the Muslim states and polities - I think free elections will lead, at least initially, to strong Islamic governments. A possible exception might be Iran where there is a chance that the strong Islamic parties and candidates will be soundly routed.

Eitherway, I think that this type of experimentation is the only way forward for these polities - garrison secularism and petro-Monarchy offers no hope for mass participation of people in the political life of their countries. That's why when you go to most of these countries people are not engaged with the State; they have no stake in it.

David Habakkuk

Clifford Kiracofe,

Something not entirely dissimilar to Voegelin's observation was said by R.G. Collingwood in a discussion of contemporary tyranny in 1941:

There were, he remarked, two ways of being a fool:

'You may be foolish to stupidity, so that your mental hands grasp nothing of what they try to grasp; or you may be foolish to craziness, so that your mind creates illusions sor hallucinations about the things of which you are trying to think. These two kinds of foolishness occur in practice much confused together. The stupid fool, in politics as elsewhere, creates nothing; the crazy fool creates much; although this much, being crazy, comes to nothing ….

'The crazy type of fool can pretend to be wise. The fertility of his diseased mind gives him an initiative, futile it is true, over his fellow men. He has just as much initiative as a man who is really intelligent; in one sense even more, for he has less to fear. The intelligent man offers himself up to an equal wrestling bout of minds; he stands up to all comers, and faces criticism; he does not know from which side criticism is going to come, or that it will not prove him to have made a mistake. The crazy type of fool with his psychological hold on his audience will easily convict him of being a fraud; which, strange though it may appear, is rather a feather in his cap than a thing to be ashamed of.'

In this sense, the Straussians and Fukuyama are indeed 'crazy fools' -- as also both Bush and Tony Blair.

A recent account in the Guardian by Jonathan Steele describes a 'rare attempt' by Blair to 'seek out expert views beyond the circle of his official advisers' at which three leading British academic specialists on Iraq spoke -- George Joffe, Toby Dodge, and Charles Trip (see http://books.guardian.co.uk/extracts/story/0,,2244839,00.html):

'"We all pretty much said the same thing," Joffe recalls. "Iraq is a very complicated country, there are tremendous intercommunal resentments, and don't imagine you'll be welcomed." He remembers how Blair reacted. "He looked at me and said, 'But the man's uniquely evil, isn't he?' I was a bit nonplussed. It didn't seem to be very relevant." Recovering, Joffe went on to argue that Saddam was constrained by various factors, to which Blair merely repeated his first point: "He can make choices, can't he?" As Joffe puts it, "He meant he can choose to be good or evil, I suppose."

'Joffe got the impression of "someone with a very shallow mind, who's not interested in issues other than the personalities of the top people, no interest in social forces, political trends, etc…".

'The experts didn't seem to make much of an impression. Blair "wasn't focused", Tripp recalls. "I felt he wanted us to reinforce his gut instinct that Saddam was a monster. It was a weird mixture of total cynicism and moral fervour."'

The underlying mentality of Blair and Bush I think turns out to be surprisingly similar, despite their different backgrounds.

I had incidentally thought earlier that the reservations expressed by 52 former senior British diplomats about American and British policy in Iraq in their April 2004 open letter reflected what their colleagues still serving thought but not could say. It appears from Steele's account, however, that I was wrong. It seems British diplomats are crazier than they used to be.


walrus

My Father told me an old story about the German Officer Corps:

Just before graduation, officer cadets were classified by their instructors in two dimensions, stupid or intelligent, industrious or lazy.

The industrious and intelligent students were allocated to General Staff positions.

The intelligent and lazy were earmarked for command positions.

The stupid and lazy were earmarked for supply and support roles.

But the stupid and industrious were expelled, because they had the ability to bring their warped plans to disastrous fruition.

Bush strikes me as stupid and industrious, after all, he "stayed the course" to get to the Whitehouse.

As for Blair, well he just converted to Catholicism didn't he, that tells you a lot about his warped and twisted mindset.

john in the boro

Clifford and David,

Your observations, courtesy of Voegelin and Collingswood, illustrate the tendency to separate state and government. Thus, we citizens can decry the actions of our officials while maintaining the purity of our state. “Officials may be mean, obstinate, proud and stupid and yet the nature of the state which they serve remains essentially unimpaired. Since, however, a public is organized into a state through its government, the state is as its officials are” (1927, John Dewey, “The Public and Its Problems”, 68-69). For better or for worse, the man who cannot compromise reflects us, or at least who we were just a few short years ago. What concerns me most is what comes next. If, as Collingswood and Fukuyama contend, history does have an end, we have experienced a regression. If not, the American public seems to be adrift, caught between dollars and sense. Babak explains one outcome.

john in the boro

excuse the addition of an "s" in Collingwood. I tend to add an "s" to Mill as well.

Cieran

On the subject of being governed by irresponsible fools who believe themselves to be monarchs instead of servants of the citizenry, I would suggest the cautions of Alexis de Tocqueville regarding the problem of a tyrannical administration:

A great many persons at the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people; and they think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large. This does not satisfy me: the nature of him I am to obey signifies less to me than the fact of extorted obedience. I do not deny, however, that a constitution of this kind appears to me to be infinitely preferable to one which, after having concentrated all the powers of government, should vest them in the hands of an irresponsible person or body of persons. Of all the forms that democratic despotism could assume, the latter would assuredly be the worst.

What Tocqueville defined as "democratic despotism" we might now refer to as "soft fascism" or somesuch, but regardless of what we might call it, it does appear that we have arrived in what he would consider to be the worst of all possible worlds.

William R. Cumming

It may be a case of over-analysis here. Some people cannot think on their feet. Witness the few really skilled trial lawyers. This is a god-given talent and not dispersed widely. Of course some cannot think while seated either. Either way, it is clear that debating skills did not bring George W. Bush to the Presidency. The story has yet to be written as to how he really got there. But at least we have staggered to the final year of his Presidency. Now the hard hard work of salvage begins.

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